A Philosopher's Blog

The Murder of Truth

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 4, 2016

“When a man lies, he murders some part of the world.”




There is an old joke that asks “how do you know a politician is lying?” The answer is, of course, “you can see his lips moving.” This bit of grim humor illustrates the negative view people generally have of politicians—they are expected to lie relentlessly. However, people still condemn politicians for lying. Or when they believe the politician is lying. At least when the politician is on the other side.

In the case of their own side, people often suffer from what seems to be a cognitive malfunction: they believe politicians lie, but generally accept that their side is telling it like it is. This sort of malfunction also extends to the media and other sources of information: it is commonly claimed that the media lies and that sources are biased. That is, when media and sources express views one disagrees with. What matches a person’s world view is embraced, often without any critical consideration. This sort of thing presumably goes back to the invention of politics; but it also ebbs and flows over time.

In the United States, the 2016 election has created a high tide of lies. While there is a rough justice in saying Hillary and Trump are both liars, it is trivially true that we are all liars. As such, it is important to consider the number and severity of the lies people tell when assessing them rather than merely pointing out the obvious truth that everyone has lied. On the face of it, Trump has a commanding lead in the realm of untruth. This should not be a surprise, given that the ghostwriter of “Trump’s” Art of the Deal attributed to Trump the tactic of the “truthful hyperbole.” As I have argued before, truthful hyperbole is an impossibility because hyperbole, by definition, is not true. While Trump has told many spectacular untruths, one of his most impressive is the narrative that he was the one who finally settled the birther movement and that Hillary started it. Given Trump’s role as the point man for the birther movement, this assertion is beyond absurd; but it merely assaults truth in general, rather than being aimed at undermining institutions that are supposed to committed to the truth. Unfortunately, Trump has also engaged in such undermining. Being in a field dedicated to the truth, I find the attacks on truth and the casual acceptance of lies anathema. As should anyone who values truth and condemns lies.

While it is tempting to some to place all the blame into Trump’s hands, Trump is merely following a well-worn path to the battle against truth. A key part of this battle is the sustained attack on the media, broadly construed. In the United States, attacking the media for an alleged liberal bias goes back at least to the time of Nixon. While it is reasonable to be critical of the news media, a sweeping rejection based on alleged bias is hardly a rational approach by someone who wants to think critically.

Trump has, however, added some new twists to the attack on the media. One is that he expanded his attacks beyond the allegedly liberal media to engage any reporter who dares to be critical of him—even people normally beloved by conservatives. In this regard, he has broken outside of the usual ideological boundaries. However, this seems to be the result of his personality rather than an ideological commitment on his part—he cannot not respond to any criticism that gets his attention.

It could be replied that Trump is merely engaging a dishonest, lying media—a media that has crossed ideological lines to join forces against him. This would require accepting that these reporters are liars and that they are manufacturing the evidence they use in their reporting—such as videos of Trump saying and doing the things they claim he does and says. While this is not beyond the realm of possibility (we could, after all, be in a Twilight Zone episode in which the twist is that Trump is the only honest man facing a vast conspiracy of liars of all political stripes), the more plausible explanation is that Trump is the one saying the untrue things.

Another concern is that he has engaged in a level of vitriol against the media that has not been seen in recent presidential politics. In general, he seems to have two main tactics for dealing with claims made about him that he dislikes. The first is to simply deny the claim. The second is to engage in intense ad hominem attacks on the source. Since fact checkers like Politifact expose Trump’s untruths, he has accused them of being biased and part of the conspiracy against him. While he is willing to engage in name-calling against specific people, he also engages in sweeping insults against the press in general. His attacks are taken quite seriously, so much so that Committee to Protect Journalists has issued a statement that Trump is a threat to the freedom of the press.

It could be replied that Trump is merely giving the media what it deserves and his attacks are true—the reporters are “nasty”, “sleazy” and “not good people.” It could also be claimed that it is true the press is engaged in a conspiracy against him.

While there are no doubt some “not good” reporters, they do not seem to be as awful as Trump claims. Of course, Trump is known for his hyperbole and saying untrue things, so this should not be surprising. In fact, it would be out of character for Trump to describe things as they are. He seems to be locked permanently in hyperbole mode: everything is great or garbage, with little or nothing in between.

As someone who writes horror adventures for games, I like a good conspiracy theory and routinely work them into my fiction. However, if the media is engaged in a conspiracy to elect Hillary and defeat Trump, they would seem to need to go back to conspiracy school. The fact checkers check her and the media relentlessly cover stories that are harmful to her chances, such as the undying email scandal. The media, via its massive and free coverage of Trump, helped him win the candidacy and they unceasingly keep him in the spotlight. Ironically, this excessive coverage of Trump is a frightening sign of the media’s role in the erosion of truth—the focus on what is spectacle, rather than what is significant. There are also those in the media who do manufacture claims or present things in ways that cast shadows over the truth—they, too, should be held accountable for their role in murdering the truth. Be they on the left or the right.

Interestingly, it could also be argued that worries about the erosion of truth are overblown: while Trump seems to be going for a gold medal in untruths, this will have no real impact on the world. This claim does have some appeal. After all, doomsayers predict that so many things will lead to dire consequences and very often they are quite wrong. I certainly hope this is the case, that in the 2020 election cycle we will be back to our normal levels of untruths and the attacks on the media will be back to being a matter of rote rather than rage.


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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 4, 2016 at 8:46 am

  2. TJB said, on November 4, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Is Pat Condell onto a larger truth?

  3. TJB said, on November 4, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Exactly how has Hillary changed since 1996?

    Essay;Blizzard of Lies

    Americans of all political persuasions are coming to the sad realization that our First Lady — a woman of undoubted talents who was a role model for many in her generation — is a congenital liar.

    Drip by drip, like Whitewater torture, the case is being made that she is compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.

    1. Remember the story she told about studying The Wall Street Journal to explain her 10,000 percent profit in 1979 commodity trading? We now know that was a lie told to turn aside accusations that as the Governor’s wife she profited corruptly, her account being run by a lawyer for state poultry interests through a disreputable broker.

    She lied for good reason: To admit otherwise would be to confess taking, and paying taxes on, what some think amounted to a $100,000 bribe.

    2. The abuse of Presidential power known as Travelgate elicited another series of lies. She induced a White House lawyer to assert flatly to investigators that Mrs. Clinton did not order the firing of White House travel aides, who were then harassed by the F.B.I. and Justice Department to justify patronage replacement by Mrs. Clinton’s cronies.

    Now we know, from a memo long concealed from investigators, that there would be “hell to pay” if the furious First Lady’s desires were scorned. The career of the lawyer who transmitted Hillary’s lie to authorities is now in jeopardy. Again, she lied with good reason: to avoid being identified as a vindictive political power player who used the F.B.I. to ruin the lives of people standing in the way of juicy patronage.

    3. In the aftermath of the apparent suicide of her former partner and closest confidant, White House Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster, she ordered the overturn of an agreement to allow the Justice Department to examine the files in the dead man’s office. Her closest friends and aides, under oath, have been blatantly disremembering this likely obstruction of justice, and may have to pay for supporting Hillary’s lie with jail terms.

    Again, the lying was not irrational. Investigators believe that damning records from the Rose Law Firm, wrongfully kept in Vincent Foster’s White House office, were spirited out in the dead of night and hidden from the law for two years — in Hillary’s closet, in Web Hubbell’s basement before his felony conviction, in the President’s secretary’s personal files — before some were forced out last week.

    Why the White House concealment? For good reason: The records show Hillary Clinton was lying when she denied actively representing a criminal enterprise known as the Madison S.& L., and indicate she may have conspired with Web Hubbell’s father-in-law to make a sham land deal that cost taxpayers $3 million.

    Why the belated release of some of the incriminating evidence? Not because it mysteriously turned up in offices previously searched. Certainly not because Hillary Clinton and her new hang-tough White House counsel want to respond fully to lawful subpoenas.

    One reason for the Friday-night dribble of evidence from the White House is the discovery by the F.B.I. of copies of some of those records elsewhere. When Clinton witnesses are asked about specific items in “lost” records — which investigators have — the White House “finds” its copy and releases it. By concealing the Madison billing records two days beyond the statute of limitations, Hillary evaded a civil suit by bamboozled bank regulators.

    Another reason for recent revelations is the imminent turning of former aides and partners of Hillary against her; they were willing to cover her lying when it advanced their careers, but are inclined to listen to their own lawyers when faced with perjury indictments.

    Therefore, ask not “Why didn’t she just come clean at the beginning?” She had good reasons to lie; she is in the longtime habit of lying; and she has never been called to account for lying herself or in suborning lying in her aides and friends.

    No wonder the President is fearful of holding a prime-time press conference. Having been separately deposed by the independent counsel at least twice, the President and First Lady would be well advised to retain separate defense counsel.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2016 at 11:09 am

      I don’t deny that Hillary lies. The fact checkers have documented her untruths as well. But, it would be a false equivalence to say she is the same as Trump here.

      What strikes me most about Trump and truth is that he says untrue things about matters that are easily checked via objective means.

      That said, my goal is not to score points for my alleged side against the other side. Rather, my concern is with the corrosion of the truth by anyone who does so. Those who loath Hillary claim she is the vilest liar. Those who loath Trump rage and insist he is the font of all that is untrue. But, my worry is the fact that lies are so easily tolerated and accepted. I know I am cast as a devilish Democrat, a fool, a vile villain and a knave-but what bothers most me is the proliferation of lies rather than whose specific mouth spouts untruths.

      • DH said, on November 11, 2016 at 8:02 am

        During the Corzine/Forrester gubernatorial campaign in NJ a dozen years ago or so, I heard Chris Christie speak at a high-school debate event. This was when he was still a prosecutor, well before he descended into the political miasma that was his demise. Regarding the notably negative campaign, he remarked that polling and statistics were very clear on one point – that the claims made by the candidates simply were not believed by the public. They could say whatever they wanted to regardless of whether or not they could be “fact checked”, and the result would be as you describe in your essay – that people believe politicians lie, but generally accept that their side is telling it like it is.

        This does not excuse the lying in any kind of moral or philosophical sense, but it does put a certain irrelevance to campaign-related untruths. To say that both of them lie but one is better because the other lies more is ridiculous. Both engage in populism, both exaggerate, both stretch or ignore the truth in order to reach the people with things they want to hear. Trump was correct in an analogous sort of way – that he could commit murder and not lose support; the only difference between the two candidates was that he said it and she did not – but there is little doubt that she believes it too.

        (Incidentally, in 1859, Dan Sickles, a US Representative from New York, stalked Philip Barton Key II in a DC park and killed him in cold blood for an illicit relationship with Sickles’ wife. He was successfully defended by Edwin Stanton on the basis of “Temporary Insanity” – the first time that defense had ever been used – and Sickles walked from the courtroom right back to his seat in the House of Representatives. Perhaps Trump’s claim is more than mere hyperbole.)

        On the other hand, we can make at least some kind of judgement call about the kind of lies being told.

        Hillary Clinton has been telling lies about her actions in order to keep from being prosecuted, to hide her true motivations from the people she hopes will support her, in order to enrich herself, in order to increase her power. In doing so she is committing felonies and compromising national security. In a moral analysis there is no difference, of course – a lie is a lie – but in a pragmatic political sense these kinds of lies are untenable.

        • wtp said, on November 11, 2016 at 8:29 am

          Agree. The lies are also readily accepted because 99% of what is related, either via campaigns themselves or via the media, is wrapped up in a personality cult. We must break from this personality cult political culture.

          Though I might point out in the Sickles case to which you refer, that in those days and before an illicit relationship with another man’s wife was excusable for murder. Provided there was sufficient proof of the relationship. Which given the times, did not need to be as tight as today’s standards. Even today, from a moral standpoint such has been excused to some extent.

          But the real problem is when the media lies and when the educational institutions lie. As in the Zimmerman case, which Mike refuses to address.

  4. WTP said, on November 4, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    The Murder of Truth? Psssh. The Murder of Irony. The Serial Murder of Irony. Serial Murders of Irony? Serial Murders of Ironies?

  5. TJB said, on November 5, 2016 at 12:55 am

    Mike, do you know the meaning of “congenital”?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Wait, did I misuse that word again?

      • TJB said, on November 5, 2016 at 12:06 pm

        Just reminding you that William Safire was not one to choose his words carelessly.

      • TJB said, on November 5, 2016 at 12:09 pm

        “But, it would be a false equivalence to say she is the same as Trump here.”

        This is where you go astray. Hillary’s lies are much more serious.

  6. ronster12012 said, on November 5, 2016 at 3:52 am

    Michael ……………………………………………………………………………… hyperbole
    exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally. ……………………………………………………………….. As hyperbole is an exaggerated statement not meant to be taken literally(except by Aspergers sufferers) there is no lie. There is an onus on the hearer to not be a retard, and to understand statements in their full context. So you are wrong to equate hyperbole and lying. ……………………………………………………………………………………….. “However, if the media is engaged in a conspiracy to elect Hillary and defeat Trump, they would seem to need to go back to conspiracy school.” ……………………………………………………………. Didn’t you just say a couple of posts ago that most of the media doesn’t like Trump?We all naturally are harder on people that we dislike than on those we like. Therefore it is quite reasonable to assume that there is a media wide conspiracy (two or more people engaged in a nefarious scheme, in this case against objective truth and impartiality thereby harming the democratic rights of all) against Trump.

  7. wtp said, on November 5, 2016 at 6:56 am

    Mike is denying that the media lies. He simply ignores the facts, presented here many times, of the many media lies of the past. He has completely ignored the conscious, willful, manufactured lies that the media presented, and which went a long way to shape public opinion, in the George Zimmerman case. The media was soooo willing to lie on a national scale about a (ahem) “local news story” why would they have any compunction lying about Trump? Philosophically speaking, Mike’s a damn liar himself, whether he does it by lying to himself or if he does so consciously. And our tax dollars go to supporting him in his endeavors. Is it any wonder the country is in the miserable shape it’s in.

    • ronster12012 said, on November 5, 2016 at 8:22 am

      WTP There are so many ways to spin stories outside of straight out lying. I think that the seamless consistent spin in the media is reason enough for them all to be taken down hard with no survivors.

      • wtp said, on November 5, 2016 at 11:02 am

        There are so many ways to spin stories outside of straight out lying
        And yet it has come to where we are today. The mask is falling. It’s getting harder and harder for even members of the media to accept. There was a recent Vanity Fair article along these lines. The more honest yet left-leaning reporters are starting to see and actually listen to what is being said outside the academic/media bubble world of inbred ideas.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2016 at 11:00 am

      I never deny that people in the media lie; that would be a lie.

      So, here you go: people in the media lie. This occurs both on the right and the left.

      • wtp said, on November 5, 2016 at 11:03 am

        OK, how about some specifics. Specifically the George Zimmerman case. If you believe the media lies, what specifically did the media lie about in that case?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2016 at 11:14 am

          I don’t believe the media lies all the time.

          They got it right that Zimmerman ignored the police and engaged and killed an unarmed person. I do recognize that specific people pundits presented narratives in the place of facts to match their ideology; that is the state of some modern media.

          What lies do you think the media told about that case?

          • wtp said, on November 5, 2016 at 11:51 am

            What lies do you think the media told about that case?

            Do I really have to tell you? You’re too damn lazy, intellectually incurious, etc. to do it yourself? You’ve never heard that:

            1) NBC edited the following audio from:

            Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

            Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?

            Zimmerman: He looks black.


            Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

            2) On March 21, CNN falsely accused Zimmerman of using the racially explosive term “fucking coon” on a 911 call.

            3) ABC commenting on video released from that night of Zimmerman going in for questioning, that there did not appear to be any lacerations or such on Zimmerman’s head and then placing a news banner over the part of the video where such could have easily been seen where the banner not there.

            4) The ommission of the fact, as presented at trial, that Martin had safely returned to the house where he was staying and then doubled back to intentionally confront Zimmerman, which undercuts the whole “crazy white rapist” fear that supposedly justified the confrontation in the first place.

            As for They got it right that Zimmerman ignored the police and engaged and killed an unarmed person.
            No, they did not. First of all, he did not ignore the police. The 911 operator gave a standard reply of “we don’t need you to do that”. This was NOT an order and the operator was NOT a police officer, this is (or at least was) SOP to let people reporting crimes know that the operator does not NEED them to investigate further. If such were the case as you (and the lying media) suggest, the SOP would be to state explicitly, “Do not do that”. And, per item 4, Zimmerman did not “engage” Martin, Martin consciously made the decision to “engage” Zimmerman. Facts as presented in court. And you wish to perpetuate these LIES yourself. You really should be ashamed. But you won’t be. You will just equivocate, put on the clown nose, or abandon the discussion. Because that is the character that you are.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 11, 2016 at 12:37 pm

              1) NBC was morally wrong to edit the tape; an ethical journalist presents the full context.
              2) Also morally wrong; assuming that they knew better. If they didn’t, this could be a failure in the ethics of epistemology.
              3) Also morally sketchy, assuming it was intentional.
              4) The dispatcher seems to have been a police dispatcher, but if I am wrong about this, then I am wrong. I did not claim that he was ordered not to engage, but he did ignore the police dispatcher. If he had not done so and let the police handle it, things probably would have played out very differently. I know the defense claimed that Martin came back to engage Zimmerman, but it is not clear that is the real fact of the matter. Perhaps Zimmerman had the best of intentions, but there was no clear need for him to engage Martin.

              As always, I appreciate your balanced tone and restraint in not making personal attacks against me.

            • wtp said, on November 11, 2016 at 5:20 pm

              You’re doing it again….
              1) NBC was morally wrong to edit the tape; an ethical journalist presents the full context.

              You are saying that by editing the tape in the manner that they did, taking out very pertinent context and putting the audio together in that manner, you don’t see that as intentional? I really don’t think you are that naive. With this manner of logic you can excuse pretty much any sort of evidence presented…which brings me to…

              know the defense claimed that Martin came back to engage Zimmerman, but it is not clear that is the real fact of the matter.

              It is if you bother to read the real facts of the matter, the evidence as presented in court, in the context of what the prosecution presented, their own witness’s testimony on cross examination, etc. Ultimately Zimmerman was prosecuted and found not guilty in a court of law. Yet people like yourself and those in the media perpetuate these lies and innuendo that he did something wrong. Then you want to turn around and make all sorts of excuses and doubts and make noise about innocent until proven guilty in regard to the likes of Clinton, the BLM crowd, etc.

              The above are lies. You endorse them. You refuse, time and time and time again to address real world facts. I spend time doing actual research to present facts to you which you then run away from or dismiss with a wave of your hand (as Magus used to say) or put on the clown nose or choose to flat out ignore. I put some work into these discussions. Your lack of respect in regard to facts after I’ve done my due diligence is insulting as well. Facts do not matter to you, simply narrative. But hey, I hurt your feelz by pointing out how passive-aggressively rude you yourself have been over these many years. Note, I ‘m not the only one here who has noted your running-man game. I’m just more direct and to the point than other people. It seems that you are uncomfortable with being held accountable for your words.

              I challenge you Mike to find in all these years where I have ever been disingenuous or deceptive in my answers or in response to direct questions. I play this game on the up-and-up. No clown nose. No running away. No half-assed answers. I play it straight as I can. Why do you refuse to do the same?

            • wtp said, on November 12, 2016 at 12:34 am

              Heh…re-reading this after TJ’s post on the other thread, I see where I was wrong. You stated “NBC was morally wrong …” to which I replied as if you were conceding nothing. For this I apologize.

              That said…this is typical of your bullshit. I said they lied. You dilute that to “NBC was morally wrong …”. And now you can hide behind that statement without admitting they lied. Disingenuous bullshit that it is, but it’s all cool in philosophical rhetorical (sophist) correctness. It’s this sort of pussy shit that truly disgusts me. You are an intellectual coward. I am not attacking you. I am, based on years and years of attempts to engage you in debate, to hold you accountable for things that you have said, describing you.

  8. TJB said, on November 5, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Mike, you said it was a lie that the Dems started the birther business. Actually, it is only a lie if you focus solely on the birth certificate. If the essence of birtherism is the idea that Obama is something other than fully American, it is clearly not a lie.

    At its root, birtherism is the extreme manifestation of the belief that Obama is, by virtue of his race, name, and background, something other than fully American. The power of this idea, odious though it is, can be glimpsed in the wide swath of people who say they believe that Obama was not born in the U.S.—51 percent of likely Republican voters, according to a Public Policy Polling survey last year.

    The idea of going after Obama’s otherness dates back to the last presidential election—and to Democrats. Long before Trump started in, Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist, Mark Penn, recognized this potential vulnerability in Obama and sought to exploit it. In a March 2007 memo to Clinton (that later found its way to me), Penn wrote: “All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared toward showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting it in a new light,” he wrote. “Save it for 2050. It also exposes a very strong weakness for him—his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and his values.”

    Penn also suggested how the campaign might take advantage of this. “Every speech should contain the line that you were born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century,” he advised Clinton. “And talk about the basic bargain as about [sic] the deeply American values you grew up with, learned as a child, and that drive you today.” He went on: “Let’s explicitly own ‘American’ in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t … Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds [of campaign events].”


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 7, 2016 at 1:59 pm

      I think we should agree to let birtherism fade into the shadows of history.

      • TJB said, on November 7, 2016 at 2:48 pm

        Don’t forget that Obama did claim foreign birth when it suited him. He told his literary agent he was born in Kenya:

        BARACK OBAMA is the junior Democratic senator from Illinois and was the dynamic keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He was also the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He was born in Kenya to an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister and was raised in Indonesia, Hawaii, and Chicago. His first book, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER: A STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE, has been a long time New York Times bestseller.


      • WTP said, on November 7, 2016 at 7:01 pm

        Got your track shoes on again, eh? I think we should agree, unless you have something to say otherwise, that per your question above, to wit, “(the media) got it right that Zimmerman ignored the police and engaged and killed an unarmed person” is incorrect. The media lied, deliberately misled in its presentation of the facts of that case. The facts, as presented in a court of law contradict you and that media narrative.

        • TJB said, on November 7, 2016 at 8:47 pm

          In a target rich environment, Mike focuses only on Trump.

          It’s funny that only people who hate Trump think that he really wants to build a wall. His supporters take it metaphorically. Funny that.

          • wtp said, on November 7, 2016 at 11:21 pm

            In a target rich environment, Mike focuses only on Trump.

            And we both know why that is. And that Mike will deny why that is. But hey, he teaches ethics. Which to me is a reflection on our culture that points to why we are where we are with these effectively TWO worthless choices in this election. A lying, unethical academia and a lying unethical media have brought us here.

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